Meals this week

I’m mostly settled into my new apartment and the time has once again come to get serious about meal prep. The first week or two in the new place, my options were somewhat limited as I was still lacking some crucial items that didn’t come with me where I used to live (and I was doing enough physical labor that I often allowed myself to indulge in a big burger after a hard day of lifting boxes). But with another trip to Japan on the horizon this autumn, I figured it was a good idea to start saving money again.

My shopping trip at the beginning of the week ran me about $80; mostly on staples that would last a few weeks, like bread, eggs, and a few different types of meat. I took a look at the reduced-for-quick-sale shelf in the produce section and picked up a pound of green beans and broccoli, a bag of plantains, and a bag of poblano peppers for about a dollar each. I also decided, last-minute, to pick up a rotisserie chicken. I usually don’t find the price to be quite as good as people make it out to be, and in most cases would rather prep my own chicken. However, this time I got a pretty good deal and the convenience was enough to push me over the edge.

One of my big plans from the beginning was to make Kapuśniak; a cabbage, bacon, and keilbasa soup that gets a lot of its flavor from sauerkraut. It takes no time to throw together and only gets better in the fridge. I made this on Sunday and ate it throughout the week.

I sauteed the poblano peppers with onions to make a fajita mix, and baked the plantains with some Creole seasoning for a nice mealy bite to mix into burritos (with the rotisserie chicken and black beans). At the end of the week, I finished off the mixture by making a quesadilla — always fun to be able to combine the same ingredients into a new format to keep things fresh. I also ate beef burgers for a few of my meals on days when I was working out particularly hard.

Blanched green beans and broccoli were a quick addition to just about any meal, and I would sometimes just eat them out of the fridge if I was in the mood for a quick bite.

While $80 is definitely higher than I want to be spending every week, this coming week should be much cheaper (I can almost make the meals I want without any additional ingredients). Hoping I can keep up the momentum.

Meals this week

Most of this week was covered by the cooking I did last week with leftover and gifted ingredients. I did a small shopping trip at the beginning of the week to get eggs and brown sugar ($2.19, which will probably work out to something like $0.05 per bowl of oatmeal) along with a few fresh vegetables here and there. I took a second trip at the end of the week to get a couple of things for a family dinner. The total for both trips came to just over $60; still under my max of $70 per week but higher than I would prefer.

I ate oatmeal each morning; greek yogurt with apples and brown sugar, chicken sausage with cotija and arugula.

My parents visited during the middle of the week, which meant for a couple of free meals this time around as well. So far the best money-saving trick I’ve found is to have other people pay for your food. On the other hand, I also went out for dinner with some friends on Tuesday and spent basically the same amount on that one meal as I did on both of my shopping trips combined. I enjoy eating out but it’s definitely not something I can do on a regular basis. Maybe next time I can have people over to cook instead.

I had a nice realization this week that will translate into savings in the future — brewed with the right technique, I actually get more enjoyable results from supermarket coffee (Eight o’clock, $10/lb) than I do from the specialty coffee I’ve been buying for a little while now (Philz, $20/lb + $10 shipping). It generally takes me about three weeks to go through a bag of coffee beans so this is a considerable reduction in my regular spending.

Meals this week

Very little shopping this time around. I spent the weekend with my parents and was sent home with a bunch of food which ended up being the basis for most of what I ate.

Before I get into what I did eat though, a quick mention of what I didn’t eat — or more specifically, what I bought that went to waste. Last week I picked up a couple of greenhouse tomatoes ($4.96) with the idea of eating them in sandwiches as a special treat. The first one was disappointingly mealy and I ended up neglecting the other one, and by the time I noticed it in the middle of the week it had molded. It feels bad to waste money on ingredients this close to the beginning of the program, especially when they’re comparatively expensive. Going forward I’ll try to be more careful of the perishable goods I buy; both in making good selections and also being proactive about using them up, even if it’s for a purpose that I didn’t originally intend.

The first of my two big meal preps this week was a hearty soup I made with a roast ham my mom gave me. The key ingredients in this were a can of red beans ($1.19), about half of the napa cabbage I bought the first week ($1.70), plus some assorted vegetables and miscellaneous stuff from the pantry like pearl barley. The other meal was a rice casserole with mushrooms and chicken breast, for which nearly every ingredient was either from my mom or had been languishing in the freezer. Between these two meals I was basically set for the rest of the week and then some.

I had a couple of other random meals here and there, again made mostly with existing ingredients. Dinner one night was a grilled chicken wrap and the next was Japanese white stew (made by my sister with ingredients she bought). As a result I was able to freeze more of my prepared food than usual, which is another nice investment in future weeks.

I did a small shopping in the middle of the week which came out to just over $40. Most of this was bulk goods that I’ll be using in the coming weeks (canned tomatoes, brown sugar) as well as some fresh produce from the bargain shelf and a large carton of eggs.

I finished off the huevos rancheros add-ins that I had made for oatmeal the week before, and alternated between sweet (brown sugar and yogurt) and savory (goat cheese and chicken sausage) throughout the rest of the week.

Meals this week

This week’s shopping was pretty minimal. I’m still planning on leaning pretty heavily on the dry and canned goods from last week, plus remaining frozen ingredients that will be carrying me for quite some time. The only thing I really needed to pick up was eggs, and I wanted to restock on green olives since I had run out making fisherman’s eggs last week. I swung by the discount produce shelf and grabbed a cucumber for salad, plus a big package of green beans that I’ll be using as a side dish throughout the week. As a treat, I got a couple of greenhouse tomatoes (for salad and maybe a tomato sandwich or two), plus a bag of mandarins to make up a fruit slot. Finally, I got a bag of coffee beans since I recently ran out. In total, I spent $35; a little more than I had planned on since this is a light week, but it’s really not very much and the unexpected extras will be a nice addition to my meals.

For one reason or another, I still had a few meals’ worth of chickpea curry left from the week before. I might have misjudged just how many meals it actually made. Rather than trying to finish it off early in the week, I decided to use it for one more dinner and then freeze the rest in serving-sized containers. It’ll make things easy in the future if I’m caught without enough time or ingredients to cook, or just give me a chance to add some variety to my lunches here and there.

I’ve decided to make jambalaya for my dinners this week. The original plan was to make some kind of side dish with beans and tomato sauce, but finding the big package of green beans for cheap changed my mind. I’ll be preparing them pretty simply; just blanched with some olive oil, chopped garlic, and red pepper flakes. At $3.41 for the package it’ll be running me about $0.48 per meal; a bit pricey all things considered but the jambalaya will be significantly cheaper to balance it out. The breakdown per serving would be something like:

  • Andouille sausage ($0.71)
  • Brown rice ($0.20)

…and that’s pretty much it. Again I’m leaning pretty heavily on freezer staples, so I’m only counting ingredients that appear on the receipts from my recent shopping trips.

I ended up getting a couple of meals for free due to my parents being in town for a few days (a nice dinner out at an Indian restaurant) and my sister making meatballs for dinner one night, both of which led to some of my prepared food being left over. As with last week, I’ll be freezing it into individual servings so I can fill in gaps in the future.

For breakfasts, we’re sticking with oatmeal. About half of the days I went with a huevos rancheros-inspired dish with baked black beans ($0.18 per serving, plus the cost of two eggs and one serving of oatmeal of course) and pickled red onions. The rest was a simple combo of brown sugar and greek yogurt.

As much as I’d love to eat fisherman’s eggs every day, mercury intake is an important consideration. I only ate it on Thursday (my biggest workout day of the week), using three eggs to make up for a missed day.

Meals this week

Right after I made my first post in this category, I went off to the store to get a batch of groceries to set things in motion. The total came out to just over $67, which is slightly over my ideal weekly budget ($3 per meal x 3 meals per day x 7 days = $63). However, this also included a big bag of brown rice which will probably last me the rest of the month, as well a bunch of canned goods that I’ll be using across the next couple of weeks. I could have held off on buying them but I figured I might as well save a trip if possible.

This shopping trip also didn’t include much in the way of fresh vegetables. I did buy a cabbage and carrots to make salad with, but I do have a decent stock of frozen veggies to work with already, plus some onions and potatoes remaining in the pantry. These kinds of irregularities will stabilize over the weeks of course, but the goal isn’t to hit some magical number, just to be efficient and frugal, and using what you’ve got is a key.

My first big meal this week was a butter-chicken-inspired chickpea and turkey curry. I basically winged the recipe but I had previously made a similar by Adam Ragusea so I had a rough idea of what to go for. Eyeballing it, I probably made about six servings. Not including the spices and vegetables I had on hand at home, the price breakdown per serving is something like:

  • Canned chickpeas ($0.41)
  • Canned tomato ($0.20)
  • Ground turkey ($0.46)
  • Brown rice ($0.10)
  • Greek yogurt ($0.20)

$1.37 per meal for the rest of the week, for a total of $8.22 for all my dinners. Not bad at all.

I ate oatmeal for breakfast throughout the week (I bought a container of quick oats that seems to be listed wrong on my receipt, but the result will be that I get 30 meals for about $0.07 each). I don’t like to eat sweets very often so oatmeal has never been a very appealing choice, but I suddenly remembered Oat Shop, a restaurant near me that had a wide variety of savory oatmeal on the menu (now sadly closed). I fried myself a couple of eggs ($0.33 each), mixed some soy sauce and vinegar with my oats, gave it a dash of hot sauce and away we went. The next day I was feeling like something sweet and mixed in a spoonful each of greek yogurt and brown sugar. The standout of the week was pretty decadent, with some goat cheese mixed into the oatmeal and fried eggs and some bulgogi beef from the freezer on top.

For lunches, I made stir-fry with vegetables and meat I had cluttering up the freezer, along with some cajun red beans I had previously made and frozen in individual portions. My lunch today was fisherman’s eggs, featuring one full can of tuna and two eggs for a total of about $1.91 and a major chunk of my protein for the day, doubling up on eggs because I forgot to eat them yesterday. Dinner will also have a nice cabbage salad on the side.

Next week I’ll still have some of my chickpea curry left over for dinners and I’ll still be working my way through freezer stuff. Haven’t decided what to prep for dinners but I probably won’t have to go shopping at all.

Meals this week (kickoff)

Back when I lived in my apartment in New Hampshire, I had a pretty good mealprep routine going. My income wasn’t great but I also had very few expenses, and I was able to save up quite a lot of money just by limiting my spending, and eating cheaply was a major player. Forgetting to cook for myself often meant eating at the diner across the street, where I could easily blow two hours’ wage on a single meal that was less tasty and much less healthy than what I could make myself.

Since leaving my last job and starting a new one where I can work from home, it’s never been easier to have full control over my meals, but I haven’t made an effort to get back into that habit. I still find myself forgetting to cook and ordering delivery instead (which costs even more than I would ever spend across the street from work).

Having just returned from Japan and with several other trips on the horizon, it feels like a good time to get myself back on track. I’m going to try blogging about what I eat each week, including approximate costs per meal. My goal will be to spend no more than $3 per meal on average, but without sacrificing on flavor or nutrition. I’ve also been trying to gain weight and build muscle lately, which means that high protein is important.

Broadly speaking, my plan looks something like this:

  • Rice. Lots of rice. I’ll be picking up a big bag of brown rice right at the beginning, which will probably account for a big chunk of this week’s budget, but which will carry across multiple weeks in the future.
  • Beans and other similar vegetables will probably account for a large portion of my dinners. I’ll be leaning towards stuff like taco bowls, curried chickpeas, lentil daal, and cajun red beans. If I was trying to go ultra-cheap, I could be buying these dry, but I’ll probably be sticking with cans most of the time.
  • Most of my vegetables will probably be frozen. I might buy some of them fresh (bell peppers for example) and freeze them myself, but in general I want to limit my trips to the store and make sure I always have ingredients on hand without worrying about spoilage. Stuff like onions that get used quickly will be bought fresh, along with hard vegetables that can stay in the fridge for a while. For salads, I’ll mainly be using cabbage since it’s cheaper and heartier than lettuce.
  • Eggs are on the expensive side but they’re good enough that I’ll allow them. I’m going to aim to eat a dozen eggs every week. These will likely be fried for breakfast or boiled for egg salad.
  • Lean meats like ground turkey and canned tuna will be my main protein drivers. I’ll probably supplement with ground beef on some weeks where my other expenses are low. I’ll likely prepare these as soboro or dry curry most of the time.

I don’t plan to prep for the entire week on one day, but ideally most of my meals will be at least partially pre-prepared. Finally, I’m going to dramatically cut back on how much I spend on eating out, and swear off delivery entirely.

It’ll probably take some getting used to but I’m a believer in using periods of motivation to supercharge strong habits. Let’s see how this goes.